Yesterday Middle Man called me to let me know that “Old Guy on a Bike” is in fact alive. I had told Middle Man that I hadn’t seen “Old Guy” in months, and figured he had probably died, or was now home bound. While Middle Man would deny this, I believe we’ve both been hopefully watching for him to re-appear. If you’re not from Bellingham, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, and even if you are… you might be scratching your head. For all intents and purposes, most of this has been played out in my head.
Over the course of the ten years we’ve lived in this amazing place, one of the things I’ve spent some time doing is noticing and naming the plethora of “colorful characters” that live here. No doubt, The Ham as many call it, is home to no shortage of “hippies”– that goes without saying (except perhaps here) and is just a loosely veiled reference to more liberal slantings in general. But, it is filled with people I see and have seen for ages, who give this town tons of color and an edge, that I for one love.
So, “Old Guy on a Bike,” is a very old gentleman (we’ve long guessed that he must be in his seventies or even eighties) who routinely rides his big beach bike up and down Fairhaven Parkway. He has always worn an overly large helmut, usually a beige jacket and has a big orange, caution flag attached by a long pole (like the ones we used on our bike carrier, when we wanted people to know “kids are on board”). I’ve seen this elderly man ride by too many times to count… which is part of what matters in adding characters to my internal note book: they must be “regulars.” I’ve never seen him go in or out of a store, never seen him coming from one of the two senior housing complexes that are located on the Parkway; he is always just riding along the sidewalk, bent over his handle bars, flag warning pedestrians to jump the hell out of the way. No doubt, he is not allowed to drive a car, but I have long been amused to see him pedal his way along my route.
Let me introduce you to the list:
“Environmental Bike Lady”- she rides around on her bike, usually with a HUGE Earth flag and often some big political sign as well, and never wears a helmet.
“(Edgy) Mohawk (recumbent) Bike Chick”- if she weren’t on a recumbent bike, this chick would scare the shit out of me… Ok, she still makes me think twice about passing her. She sports a bright pink mohawk, a true MOHAWK and is seriously tough looking– except for the recumbent bike, which I clearly have pre-conceived prejudices against (the bike, not the chick). Briefly, if truth be told, I even imagined that maybe “Old Guy on a Bike” had crossed “Mohawk Chick” and she ran him down… hence his disappearance.
“Running Man”- sometimes we call him Forest Gump: he is ALWAYS running, has neatly kept blond beard and hair (He’s got great taste and gets his hair done at Looking Glass Salon, in town), always wears a neat Nike outfit, new sneakers and seems to range this entire town from Fairhaven to Sunset! For a long time, years, I only saw him running… then I actually saw him come in for a hair cut, saw him outside a coffee shop once, and now I actually know his name, because people I know, know him. Despite myths about his homeless-millionaire status, I think he’s really just a good guy, a little lost and running ’til he figures it out… something I can really relate to right now.
“Skate Boarder Kid” lives near me, graduated hs a few years ago and for the longest time (four years) could be seen skate boarding down Hawthorn nearly EVERY day. Lately he has been on a bike twice (I nearly pulled over to ask!) and I have hypothesized that he’s gotten a job, that require he cut his long curly locks and dress up a little. Pricipessa knows who he is, but I’ve created an entire alter history for him, and refuse to hear otherwise.
“Crosswalk boy”- he is almost always at one of 2 intersections, pushing the cross button and waiting, in his dark green or bright red jackets. I am aware that he has some “challenges”, but I have long admired his focus and determination navigating his territory. He never crosses against the light.
Just to be clear, these are only a few of the regulars I’ve “followed” for several years now. The ones that I see and see again, and have created background stories for; I look for these individuals in my comings and goings. It is unsettling when the patterns change, or I lose touch with them, as they color and nuance the world I live in. Actually, the novel I’m working on started with a character I saw around town. I began to wonder what would happen if our worlds collided, and the story went from there… when it sells millions and I’m on my book tour, you can ask me about this.
When I hadn’t see “Old Man on a Bike” for many, many months, I really did worry that something bad had happened to him. It was a strange realization that he might have died, or gone into a nursing home, and I really have no idea who he (really) is. His disappearance was a reminder that he does have this life outside my car windows and I have no way of really being sure when that life changes… other than the striking absence of his presence in my routines. I’d mentioned this to Middle Man (who is alternately amused and mocking of my character observations) and when he saw Old Man again, he promptly called me to let me know that he is in fact alive. Hmm, broken hip (from his collision with “Mohawk Chick”) kept him in for a while? I’m beginning to work out the details…
Once, I stopped to help one of the characters that I’d been noticing for some time. I had seen this bearded guy shuffling along in his wheel chair, up and down the Parkway (this is the area I see most of my characters). It was clear that he struggled with the wheelchair, and tried to use his feet to propel himself forward. One day I was driving Middle Man to something and we passed this guy trying to cross at one of the cul de sacs that are along the Parkway, but apparently stuck. When I suggested that maybe we should stop and see if he needed help, Middle Man was mortified. He thought this would be very intrusive and out of line, and urged me to just keep going and not make a fool of myself. He was in middle school then, and my making a fool of myself was just starting to take a toll (I think we’ve long since passed that thresh hold)
An hour later, when we came back, he seemed to be stuck in the same place and looked tired and very upset. I started to pass by again, but felt terrible and despite Middle Man’s pleas to not make a big deal, or embarrass this guy, I pulled over and went over to introduce myself. Larry was really grateful for the help. ”The wheel chair was pretty new, so (he) wasn’t really used to it yet,” he explained. A wheel had gotten stuck in a pot hole and his hands were sore and he was exhausted, from trying to get out. He was trying to get to Fairhaven, but was only half way there and had been stuck for nearly an hour. He told me that he didn’t have the energy to get the rest of the way, so maybe he’d just go back to the Assisted Living facility. I pushed him the rest of the way to Fairhaven and he told Middle Man and I about himself and about how relieved he was to have some help. It was a great “learning moment” for Middle Man and brought one of my mysterious characters into the real world, for me. When I started giving presentations at the out-patient Adult Day Care program a few years ago, Larry was in the front row and told everyone we’d been friends for years. I love seeing him there and we always re-hash the details of how we met.
The obvious beauty of the place I live is the islands, water and mountains that surrounds us. On a sunny day, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone around here who wouldn’t tell you that we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It actually shimmers. I love the culture, the restaurants, the wild places that still exist between the various neighborhoods and all around us. I love the people. Hands down I’ve found some of the most rewarding and meaningful friendships in this town, and good people abound. But, the nameless regulars that live here with me, the people I see day to day but only know in my head, truly add color and intrigue… and that adds some rainbow hues that just make the shimmer sparkle a little brighter.
PLEASE NOTE: If you know any of these people, no offense is intended by any of my observations. The characters mentioned here are people I’ve observed over a long time, and keep track of because they interest me and have some quality that I admire. In no way are any observations intended to be insensitive or critical. If you liked this post, please hit the Like button below, or pass it on, with Share button.